I think if there were one thing I could change about myself, it would be the ability to listen with equanimity. I read a lot, online and off, and all too often I come across a fallacy, or a self-contradiction, or a point of ignorance, and I just seeth. I instantly want to write an angry response, coldly and forcefully pointing out how YOU ARE WRONG AND I CAN PROVE IT. I compose angry screeds in my head. I have lengthy mental dialogs with imaginary interlocutors, dismissing their arguments point-by-point. Sometimes these mental exercises leave me even more annoyed than when I started.

I am happy to say that when I actually take keyboard in hand to lay the intellectual smack down on someone, at least 90% of the time I lose interest after a paragraph or two and trash the unsent response. Usually I feel a little sheepish and silly for awhile after. And if I actually send it, I’m terrified to check my mail (LJ, etc…) for fear that there’s an angry rebuttal waiting for me.

I’ve never liked confrontation. Part of that is just my natural (or perhaps learned) inclination; but part of it is reasoned. See, I think most confrontation is unproductive or counterproductive. In my experience most non-technical arguments create more heat than light. I’ve always hated the prickly combative style of public discourse, and I hate it when I see myself contributing to it.

Ben Franklin advised that when putting your opinion forth, you should always put it modestly, beginning with phrases like “it seems to me…” or “may I suggest…” – and that by doing so, you would have far greater success than if you stated it as indubitable fact. And in the debates I have observed, the people who have always impressed me most are the ones who remain calm and composed, who respond to barbs with grace rather than by returning fire, who don’t assert their position forcefully but instead gently suggest. When someone like this enters a typical internet snark-fest, it’s like royalty stepping through a mud-spattered rabble. They inspire instant respect.

It is better to convert than to defeat, and in order to do either reliably it is necessary to understand and have sympathy for your opponent. Even better, you shouldn’t even regard them as an opponent. And yet, time and again, I read something and my immediate reaction is NO! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

I want to listen and hear with perfect equanimity and sympathy. I want to understand what concerns others, rather than where they err. I want to identify and comprehend rather than busying myself looking for chinks in their armor. I want to be the steadfast yet yielding tree, and not the whirlwind.

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  1. dude…

    you do pretty damn well…

    You and I have had a number of what I would call “in-depth conversations” and although there were always times when one or the other of us would occasionally cross the line into a bit to pointed of retorts.. I’ve always thought that we were good at getting back into line and kept up and actually learned something from each other…

    This is despite the fact that I totally disagree with you on a number of things.. 🙂

    So.. please.. do not stop and erase.. but do respond..

    1. Re: dude…

      Thanks for the vote of confidence. It means a lot, coming from you.

  2. (Still waters run deep)

    …and yet you’re so whirlwind-y.

    1. Re: (Still waters run deep)

      Hey, you’re the gassy one lately 😛

  3. calm rational… nicely pointed

    A very interesting comment about yourself and a lot of us. Even better? The comment is said in such a way that it is self depreciating and eye opening when turned around and the reader looks at herself through it. ::waves sadly:: Been there, done that, understand the serious need for deft words and a delete key… or better yet a self-mute button.

    One point, though, I would rather listen to your commentaries and debates because I know that you’ve a) thought them out, b) tend to be right more than wrong, c) are much more focused and calm than most in our rather volatile family. Which is why I am more likely to sit around and listen until too many of my buttons are pushed.

    The No! Wrong! Wrong! approach might be technically correct but it sends me (and others too probably) scuttling off behind resisting rocks known as hurt and denial so that we can truthfully say, ‘Hey, I didn’t hear that’… and while it might have been said, it was not heard because all the hurt feelings and scorching flames caused the actual words to be missed.

    Good luck with effort – from what I’ve seen it seems to work better than most people’s attempts.

    1. Re: calm rational… nicely pointed

      Thanks… I’m working on it. The real trick is making the leap from simply self-censoring, to actually adjusting my attitude from one of self-assured righteousness to one of openness. Sure, I can keep my mouth shut when one of my pinko commie friends goes off on capitalism; but to actually hear what they are saying instead of hearing “BLAH BLAH YADDA YADDA I’M AN ECONOMIC NEANDERTHAL” – that’s the next level.


  5. I’ve done similar things and also felt a desire to be a more gracious person than that…

    No real answers, but this blog entry is along similar lines and got me thinking…

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